February 10, 2008

Who Is the Republican Core Anyway?

Hatched by Dafydd

In a comment on another post, commenter Caustic Conservative gloomily wondered whence would come the electioneering energy for John McCain:

I still worry about who it is that will be financing the McCain campaign, and manning the phone banks this fall. There is an energy gap to his candidacy--you see it in turnout between R's and D's--that maybe no GOP candidate could overcome this year, but given McCains prior antagonism of his conservative base could be very costly to him.

A McCain fan I know says the cure for this comes in two words: Hillary Clinton. I agree to a certain extent, but I no longer believe her candidacy is even likely at this point. If that is the best argument to get out the vote for McCain in the fall, where do we stand in the end?

Many conservatives seem to have an appalling paucity of imagination. Why do they suppose that the core of any Republican campaign must comprise conservatives? Can they really not imagine any other core Republican voters but themselves?

I know for a fact (because I knew many of them) that in 2000, a great deal of George Bush's army of volunteers were moderates, not conservatives. Remember, Bush ran not as a conservative but a "compassionate conservative," which everybody understood to mean a center-right, big-government Republican who was hawkish on taxes and some social issues (such as abortion), but who was not particularly interested in a conservative foreign policy. (That last changed in September, of course.)

Come to that, I suspect I'm far more of a core Republican than the huge majority of conservatives; yet I'm not a conservative. I actually support the Democrats on many issues; and in the past, I usually voted Democratic. But the Democratic Party has become so toxic on certain subjects I consider existential -- the war against global hirabah, for example, but also taxes, spending, same-sex marriage, energy, globaloney, and in general, their increasing captivity to socialism -- that I cannot vote for any Democrat, anywhere, anytime, until the party changes drastically.

I'll note that in 2004, I remained optimistic and encouraged people to get out and vote and even converted many of my more libertarian friends to being GOP voters -- while at the same time, hard-core conservatives (most of you know who I mean) spent the whole summer predicting utter ruin for the GOP, being roundly pessimistic, and doing their best to depress Republican turnout by saying, in essence, that Bush couldn't possibly win reelection.

With conservatives like that, who needs RINOs? (They came around later in the year; but I was consistent in my optimism and American spirit all year.)

Ever since Reagan in 1980, conservatives (with very bad memories) have flattered themselves that they are the true core of the GOP. I say "bad memories" because it wasn't even true back in 1980: the very term "neocon" originally meant a Democrat who was converted to Republicanism by the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Remember "Reagan Democrats?" Those were Democrats disgusted by the leftward lurch their party had taken, and especially revolted by the anti-American, feckless, belly-crawling, malaise-spreading surrender monkey, Jimmy Carter, who therefore voted for Ronald Reagan instead. This, by the way, describes many of the people crowing today about their "true core" status.

(I find it particularly surreal when neocons in the original sense like Michael Medved and much of the current dextrosphere -- including many of my favorites -- rail against people like Mitt Romney for being late converts to conservatism.)

As I said earlier in comments to another post, this is a mistake: The "core" of any party comprises all those who always turn out to vote for that party, who campaign for it, and who donate to it. That is the basic definition. In some elections, nearly all of those people called themselves "conservatives." But more commonly, that core group includes both conservatives and other Republicans -- who are just as much the "base" of the party as conservatives.

From 1900 through the entire FDR era (including Truman), the GOP was more what we would today call "country-club conservatives," who had more in common with "limousine liberals" than they did with entrepeneurs, working men, and soldiers. They opposed Roosevelt's economics not on free-market grounds but on the principle of conservation of the wealthy elite; and they certainly didn't have a more aggressive foreign policy than President Roosevelt! Even the William F. Buckley of that era was quite different from the later Bill Buckley, who called himself a libertarian conservative. It was a different universe.

In the Dwight Eisenhower administration, the GOP was quite moderate. Richard Nixon was a committed anti-Communist, but he was never a conservative; that's why the election of 1960 was a dead heat: There wasn't a dime's worth of difference between Nixon and JFK on foreign policy, and the only difference on domestic policy was that Kennedy was marginally more conservative (on taxes, for example, where Kennedy was somewhat of a supply-sider; Nixon, by contrast, famous remarked, "We're all Keynesians now" in 1971.)

Thus, for practically the first three quarters of the twentieth century, until 1972 (with the exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a candidate for conservatives only), conservatives were on the outside looking in. The GOP was pretty much dominated by establishmentarians, moderates, Realists, anti-Communists, and what we would today call RINOs -- liberal Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller. This was "the great silent majority" that Nixon relied upon.

Conservatives like Bill Buckley spent as much time bemoaning the Republicans as the Democrats. They didn't like the GOP, but they certainly weren't going to move en masse to the Democrats, where they would have to link arms with Southern segregationists, which movement conservatives refused to do. The probably held their nose and voted Republican most of the time... but they were not the party's core; they were estranged stepchildren.

But in 1972, when Nixon was running for reelection, the Democratic Party lurched to the hard left and nominated George McGovern, a peacenik who was soft on the Soviet Union... resulting in a massive landslide for Nixon. This remained the Democratic position right up until Bill Clinton in 1992... thus, the conservatives -- terrified of the alternative -- had no choice but to join with anti-Communist moderates -- and that coalition was the core of the party for eight election cycles, from 1972 through the 1988 presidential election.

In 1976, Nixon's so-called "corruption" (it's worth reading Silent Coup, by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, for a revisionist history of this subject), coupled with the Andrew Johnson-like weakness of the appointed President Gerald Ford, led to the very narrow victory of another peacenik Communist appeaser (who sailed during the election under false colors as a foreign-policy hawk). But when voters realized who Jimmy Carter really was, he was crushed the next election by Ronald Reagan.

Yet even then, the "core" of the GOP in 1980 still included a lot of moderates and even some converted liberals. In fact, we can make this into a general rule, which should be obvious: Whenever a party has a "big tent," its core is necessarily heterogenous. But when the core is homogenous, that typically means the party is not attracting any but true believers; hence it typically loses a lot and wins only narrow victories.

Reagan's main rival in the primaries was George H.W. Bush, who -- as we all remember -- was the man who first used the phrase "voodoo economics" to describe the combination of huge tax cuts, a major cut in the prime lending rate, gigantic increases in military spending, and draconian spending cuts in non-military spending (the last was killed by Congress, alas) that we now call "Reaganomics."

During the hapless presidency of George H.W. Bush, the moderates decided that there was nothing left to tie them to the GOP: Reagan was gone, and Bush was a poor substitute. Most of them flirted with the bizarre but charismatic H. Ross Perot, in whom some saw a new Reagan; others joined with Bill Clinton. The 1992 election was a muddle; and even by 1996, Clinton still couldn't get a majority... Ross Perot sucked off some of the moderate vote. But in 1992 and 1996, only conservatives really consistently backed the GOP candidate (GHW Bush and Bob Dole, respectively); and of course it was conservatives who led the way in the Republicans' 1994 congressional victory. These three elections, plus 1964, 2004, and 2006, are the only times that the Republican core has really been completely conservative.

In 2000, Bush was the establishment GOP candidate, McCain was the maverick party straddler, and the conservative vote was splintered between Gary Bauer (religious Right), Steve Forbes (free-market conservatives), and Alan Keyes (social conservatives), with the last being the last man standing. (Pat Buchanan was a relict even back then; his heyday was as Ronald Reagan's speechwriter.)

I can make a good argument that conservatives were the core of the GOP in 2004, as most of the Bush moderates jumped ship to John Kerry; had they not, then Bush would have enjoyed the usual incumbent's advantage and won by 56% to 43%. And of course, in 2006, conservatives were the only ones to vote Republican -- which is why the GOP lost a bunch of seats.

And there you have it: Conservatives have been "the core of the Republican Party" only six times in this century or the last: 1964, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2004, and 2006; on four of those six, the GOP lost.

In all the other elections since 1900, so far as I can determine, the Republican "core" comprised a coalition between two or more groups -- sometimes including the conservatives, but sometimes not (I think a lot of conservatives probably supported the somewhat more conservative JFK over the liberal Richard Nixon). Thus, conservatives are not "the core" of the GOP except occasionally, or when they join with other groups in a core coalition.

So back to the original question: Who is going to work energetically for John McCain? For heaven's sake, he has an army of people who dote on him, and have done since at least 2000. Many of them are moderates who sometimes vote Democratic; but this time, they'll throw everything they have into getting McCain elected president.

Well, this year, just as in 1980, we're going to have another anti-American, feckless, belly-crawling, malaise-spreading surrender monkey as the Democratic nominee, no matter which of them wins. In addition, the Democrat will be either corrupt to the core -- or else a complete vapid naif with no experience whatsoever. Arrayed against her or him, we'll have a charismatic leader with a very compelling personal history of almost unimaginable courage under torture, and with a whole warehouse full of substantive ideas (which everyone will applaud partially and reject partially).

I think we're going to have a huge passel of volunteers... it's just that many of them won't be hard-core movement conservatives. Just as with Reagan.

Alas, this is all played out against the backdrop of a successful war rendered unpopular by the relentless misreporting and deliberate lying of the elite media and the Democrats. I suspect the war will be nowhere near this unpopular by November; but it won't yet be remembered fondly (that comes later, after some time for the American people to reflect). Plus, the economy will be thought to be shaky, even if it's improving: Public opinion is always a lagging indicator.

I believe, in the end, the voters will choose the charismatic leader with real ideas (love them or loathe them) over either the dull as dishwater candidate espousing the tired, old policies of yesteryear, or the charismatic but content-free orator whose politics is just as far to the left as Jimmy Carter's (and I mean the Carter of today, not the Carter of 1976).

And if McCain does win, he will win because the core of the Republican Party is once again a coalition of many different kinds of Republican.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 10, 2008, at the time of 7:42 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/2800


The following hissed in response by: Baggi

Thank you for this post Dafydd, seriously.

Ive been making the argument for awhile now why it is better for us conservatives to elect Hillary than it is to elect McCain.

You've pretty much made my argument for me. If we do not stop Mccain and stop him handily (His opponent needs to win big like Reagan did) then people will believe what you just wrote.

I'm convinced you are completely and totally wrong. And to help demonstrate that and save the Republican party from going further left, er, sorry, "moderate", McCain needs to be defeated.

The above hissed in response by: Baggi [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 7:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: Flash Gordon

As I was reading your post where you say you are not a conservative I was trying to figure out what you are since you're not a conservative. By the end I got it. You are one of the Republicans who believe that of all the possible Republican candidates McCain is the only one who can beat Hillary. On Wednesday morning after the election next November you will be one of those surprised Republicans when McCain loses in a landslide.

Thompson or Romney would have been better horses to run in a race against Hillary or Obama, because conservatives would vote for them. I don't understand how the so-called "moderates" think that they don't need conservatives to win. Conservatives are the base of the Republican party because without them the Republican party will be consigned to what it was before conservatives started voting in large numbers. That is, a permanent minority.

The above hissed in response by: Flash Gordon [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 9:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Dafydd wrote:

(I find it particularly surreal when neocons in the original sense like Michael Medved and much of the current dextrosphere -- including many of my favorites -- rail against people like Mitt Romney for being late converts to conservatism.)

Rail against Romney himself? Do you have an example? I think Medved was much too busy with something else--busy explaining to disagreeing conservative callers (first Huckabee-, and then McCain-haters) that despite what they've heard, neither Huckabee or McCain is to the left of Ted Kennedy, or are out to destroy America as we know it. I don't know that Medved had time to "rail" against Romney. I've listened to two hours of Medved each weekday, at least, for the last two months (okay, I don't have much of a life) and if Medved was unfair to Romney, it's news to me. Hugh Hewitt was on Medved's show to praise Romney, as were other Romney supporters. The "railing" must've been very brief and atypical, because I sure didn't hear it when I was listening.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 9:13 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

The first comment in this thread illustrates precisely what a great sage and seer said late last night:

Whenever I hear some supposed Republican saying "the Republicans are doomed," I draw the not unreasonable conclusion that the speaker is a Democrat.

In this case, it's not "the Republicans are doomed," it's... the Republicans are so morally bankrupt that I will actively work to elect the Democrat -- even knowing that this will result in horrific losses for America and tons of casualties -- because only by fire shall the demon be purged from the party's soul!

Sure, a few hundreds or thousands may die; but you can't make an omlet without breaking a few heads.

This is such a nutty and catastrophic strategy that there is no doubt in my mind that the author is really a Democrat at heart: He doesn't want Hillary as president to punish the GOP; he just wants Hillary as president.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 9:22 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

When deciding whether you should vote for "A" or "B", you should base that decision on which candidate would be best for the Country. Some folks argue that you should vote for the person who would be best for YOU. I just can't follow the logic that I, as a Republican, should vote for Hillary in order to fix the Republican Party. I'm an American first, and I'm a member of the Republican Party because they and their candidates are closest to what I want for America. I cannot abandon my self-imposed responsibility for America in order to make a point to the Republican Party. If the Widget party could do for American what the Republican Party can do for America and do it better, I'd be a Widgeter. Voting for Hillary to improve the Republican Party would be like being HIV Positive and having rampant unsafe sex in order to prove to people they should have been celibate. It may indeed be effective in making your point about what should have been, but the destruction you create...

As for your premise, Dafydd, it's a good idea to clear up our definitions first. I accept your definition of "Core Republican" as the one who votes, works, and contributes in a consistent and reliable way. While I identify myself as a Conservative, I have to point out that Conservatives are once again reliable... in that when we don't get our way, we proclaim our refusal to help the Party. Now, like I said, I am an American First, a Republican down the list. But I don't fool myself into thinking that the Republican Party would be out of members if Conservatives left.

Consider the Democrat Party member. Anti-communist but pro-Government Solution. Big supporter of the War on Terror, he finds himself no welcome in his party. So, he trots over to make his voice heard as a Republican. If he contributes time, money and votes, he'll become the new Core Republican, especially if the Conservatives sit another election out.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 10, 2008 9:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Flash Gordon:

You are one of the Republicans who believe that of all the possible Republican candidates McCain is the only one who can beat Hillary.

Had you troubled to read this blog a bit, you might have noticed that (a) I repeatedly stated that I think Romney could also have won; (b) I voted for Romney in the primary; and (c) I don't believe Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee anyway.

Sorry to blow your theory, but there it is.


With my own ears (not rented ones), I heard Michael Medved many times sneer that Mitt Romney used to be pro-choice, but miraculously is now pro-life; and Medved went on to imply (or often, state openly) that this transformation "coincided" with him running for the presidency... the clear implication being that Romney switched because it was convenient. He contrasted Romney with McCain, who has (true) been pro-life for longer.

He said the same about Romney and several other conservative issues. (He never said anything similar about McCain and border security.) I cannot imagine that you never heard him say that; he said it darn near every show between Iowa and Über-Tuesday.

But Michael Medved is himself a former radical leftist who made a "right turn" (as one might say) because of Ronald Reagan. Hence, Medved -- who surely believes his own transmogrification was utterly authentic -- is unwilling to extend that same courteous assumption to the candidate he disliked the most... Mitt Romney.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 12:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: Frank Laughter

As a staunch conservative who is glad to be under the same tent with moderates AND Bible thumping evangelicals, I can't resist commenting on Dafydd's excellent post: Good job!

Plus, my two cents to the colloquy... If Michael Medved is a standard bearer for the GOP, we're in deep trouble.

The above hissed in response by: Frank Laughter [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 1:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Baggi

Mr. Michael,

I think you're talking to folks like me.

However, i'm not trying to fix the Republican party. Just as you said, I don't care what the party is, Republican or Widget party. Makes no difference to me.

I vote my values, they are what are most important to me. And I do not care what you call my values either. Conservative or Zoobie, makes no difference to me.

So the question I have to ask myself is, which candidate would be better for my values, Obama/Hillary or McCain?

After thoughtful consideration I believe the answer is Obama/Hillary.

With McCain, we'll get lot's of compromise. As Dafydd put it, what's mine is mine and what's yours if negotiable. I have no doubt that McCain will bargain with Democrats and get nothing in return.

So, on Judges, McCain will accept a "compromise" list of candidates (As they tried to shove down Bush's throat) from the Democrats on who he can choose that they will accept, because McCain likes to get things done. On the War on Terror, McCain will agree with the Democrats to join international courts and outlaw waterboarding. McCain will happily compromise with Democrats to make our borders more friendly to illegals. McCain will compromise with Democrats in order to get federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. McCain will compromise with Democrats to raise taxes.

This list is endless and I think you get the point. If McCain wants to do something conservative, I have no doubt the Democrats will then decide to stand on principle and oppose him.

On the flip side, if Hillary/Obama are President, we will have the filibuster. Not only will we have the filibuster, but we will also regain control of the House and Senate. When I say we, I mean those folks who share my values. She won't be able to do any damage just like Bill Clinton wasn't able to do much damage because in 1994 we took over the legislature.

But the biggest reason is the War on Terror. I want to win the War on Terror. As we can clearly see, the Democrats only oppose the War on Terror because George W. Bush is for it. It's not like they have a principled stand against it. But if they can claim it as their own, then not only will Democrats be for it, but Republicans too, and finally we'll be united. The Republicans on principle, because we care to protect the country and the Democrats for pure political gain.

The above hissed in response by: Baggi [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 1:49 AM

The following hissed in response by: Caustic Conservative

Since you have chosen to pluck my comment out as the basis for this post, I feel compelled to comment:

Let me say first that I will willingly support John McCain when I step into the voting booth November 4, regardless of what the race looks like at the time. The importance of winning the war in Iraq is paramount to me, as it is to many self described conservatives. That's why the meme "Vote for McCain. Or else." will work with many of us that day.

Others have said it better than I have, but a prominent career built upon media adulation of your willingness to condemn your party mates--sometimes in the most unfair of ways--is going to have a negative effect. Bush in 2000 ran credibly as a bridge to the separate wings of the party and got nearly all of them to come out and vote in a real squeaker. McCain goes into 2008 against an even more energized Democratic electorate and has a habit of regularly poking half of the people he is going to need to support him in the fall with a blunt stick. A lot of the people he appeals to from the center, according to polls, are equally (maybe more) drawn to Obama (I don't know what that says about their thought process, but there you have it) so saying that centrist voters will eventually come to their senses and pull the lever for McCain is an open question indeed.

The problem ultimately is not that McCain is too moderate--this party has nominated moderates before and won, and McCain himself is not particularly moderate in most areas, anyway. It's that he willingly alienates people he needs to win, without making a compelling argument to replace them with other voters and workers.

The above hissed in response by: Caustic Conservative [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 5:54 AM

The following hissed in response by: Pam

Dafydd, I do agree with your (Compassionate Conservative) assesment of Bush 2000; tough on crime, judges, tax cuts, but not so much on big government, and no nation building. Of course, the latter had to change after that September. You hit apon the Reagan Democrates; I think McCain will get alot of them, especially older men. They will not vote for Hillary and cannot vote for Obama, because he is void of substance. Good post as always.

The above hissed in response by: Pam [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 7:10 AM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

I think Dafydd's post is very informative and there is a lot of truth in it.

I think McCain has a lot more support in the party than a lot of this conservative critics realize. After all, people are voting for him. I read a post at Captains Quarters about a Newsweek story and poll that put McCain's support among Republicans at about 3/4.

I realize there are some people who will not respect the will of the people. There will be some people who will not care enough about rendering the sacrifices of our soldiers meaningless to stick with the GOP. They would rather stay home, hands in pants and pout than vote for McCain.

Well, whatever, but if McCain wins without them, the people who refer to themselves as true conservatives might have less influence in the party than they do right now.

After all, these people had years to groom the second coming of Ronald Reagan. The fact that there was going to be an election in 08 could not have escaped them. It seems to me that these folks have been too busy bitching and moaning in recent years to be really proactive and go out and find the perfect guy. Too busy crying about Miers, and Dubai and immigration and all those other things that were more important than finding Mr. Right.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 5:51 PM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

We owe a debt to the young men and women in uniform. They can not just opt to stay home, they have to do their duty. Thousands of these young people will not be coming home from Iraq. I supported the war, I still do. A lot of so-called conservatives did as well. In fact there has been very little appetite for defeat in the GOP. If conservatives help the Democrats win, either by staying home or by actively supporting them, because of some prejudice they have against the Republican nominee...I will always think of them as quitters who allowed the lives of these fine young people to have been wasted.

I can only hope that chaos will not be the result if the Democrats win, but when I listen to Obama and Clinton compete for who can surrender first, I wonder how conservatives could just let that happen. I really do.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 5:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: phil g

I am a self described 'traditional' conservative who will gladly vote for McCain over Obama or Clinton. I did not vote for McCain in the primary but he won and is NOW the best candidate for this country left standing WHO CAN WIN. All these conservative pot bangers who think they are standing up for their principles or values are little more than snobs who just want their little group ideologically pure and to hell with everyone else. That attitude will only create many very small conservative 'groups' as the neo's, theo's, trads, social, religious, conservatives will find that they can't even stand each other. All these childish fits causes me to want to drop the label conservative altogether. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, do some serious introspection on what 8-16 years of very leftist Democratic leadership will cause the country to look like and then vote your concious...for the country, not for your personal idealogical 'value'. Then work like heck to get your elected Republicans, local, state and federal to move towards your view or work to get those closest to your views elected. That is grown up politics of compromise and persuation.

The above hissed in response by: phil g [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 12, 2008 4:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL


I agree with every word.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 12, 2008 8:19 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved